A Season of Change

One of the most exciting things about creating a new garden is change. The sheer amount of change, the transformation from what was to what is and what will be. The progress from grass to border to planting to maturity. The new garden we’re working on now is certainly no exception and it’s around the waning of the season – when the gardening jobs begin to tail off and there’s some breathing room – that my mind begins to take stock and plays “spot the difference” with the same scenes from months ago.

On one hand we’ve been so busy that we’ve had little chance to follow the changes through the season so we’re taken aback with just how much plants have grown and how much they’ve filled out and spread. On the other hand, seeing the garden nearly every day means the change has been imperceptible, almost un-noticed. It’s an odd feeling to be aware of both contrasting stances.

One of the best examples is Magnolia Hill, which was the first part of the first border to be created and planted. At the beginning of the year, it started off like this:

Start of Magnolia Hill

A Plan for Magnolia Hill

Yeah, remember the black polythene, pegs and old cast iron pipes (from another DIY project) to stop it blowing away? The picture was actually taken towards the end of the year before. Let’s zoom out and see the rest of the garden as it started off this season at the end of March:

Polythene Garden

The Polythene Garden

You can tell I’m not cheating with time because you can see the Camellias in full flower. We started off with a garden that only grew polythene and old drain pipe. Not a single border in the back garden was started, but start we did and it was a couple of months later that Magnolia Hill (the bulbous end of the middle border) was complete and planted:

Magnolia Hill Year 1

Newly Planted Magnolia Hill in May 2015

Looking at this, the plants are tiny. This is predominantly a shrub border but on planting, it looked sparse, well-spaced and well, almost bare, particularly around the magnolia itself. Of course, this is only temporary, despite the mediocre summer we had, these plants established, grew, branched, bushed, filled out and have now met their neighbours and begun to mingle.

Five months down the line, shortly into September – not even half a year later – the same border is almost unrecognisable:

Magnolia Hill 2015

Establishing Magnolia Hill in September 2015

I still find it hard to believe those two pictures are only five months apart, there must be something in the soil. Yes there’s some bare soil where we took out some spent annuals, but this is only the first tier of five that has been planted. Yet to add in are climbers, bulbs, ground cover and herbaceous perennials. In the meantime, the shrubby plants – particularly the Sambucus Nigra – have really taken off. The irises have really thickened out, the magnolia is beginning to tower above at the back and the rose behind it (Strawberry Hill) is unstoppable, having almost continuously flowered since summer, along with the Graham Thomas rose.

The “feeling”, “theme” or “atmosphere” (call it what you will) for this border is one of established shrubs and plants, with their varied foliage of different leaf sizes, colours, textures and shapes, all contrasting and mingling with each other. The flowers will also play an important role however, this picture was taken after the main flowering season for this border, which (given the plants) is from late spring through late summer. The style – as always – is that of a busy, crowded stand of plants, which look barely contained by a fragile border edge and are just on the verge of tipping out of control.

Being a shrub border, the planted shrubs will grow to a few meters in height and spread. The magnolia will eventually grow into a mature tree and encompass the full width of the border many years down the line. The shrubs will continue to grow through its lower branches and the understorey from the mature shrubs will form a shady environment for lower growing and ground cover plants. At the moment though, they’ve only just met and are getting know one another.

Magnolia Hill from the Back

The Back of Magnolia Hill

The back of Magnolia Hill is a mass of foliage – admittedly not as good as from the front – but the border was designed (and I use that term rather loosely) to be viewed head-on. Towards the back, where “The Crescent” starts, is a Philadelphus that will be a scent-magnet when it flowers. The full border contains no fewer than three Philadelphus shrubs, making for a highly scented as well as a highly visual border.

While there’s not a great deal of winter interest in this border, there are a few evergreen plants and one or two that are even winter flowering, some flower very early in the season while others flower late. I didn’t try for 24/7/365 flowering in this border alone and that’s fine because there’s still the rest of the garden available to fill in the gaps.

It will be interesting to see how this border develops, in particular which plants shade out others that are currently enjoying a sunny position. There is likely to be some chopping and changing, but the crown jewel of Magnolia Hill is the Magnolia x Soulangeana planted at the top, all the other plants around it are the supporting cast. It will take many years before the whole border fully matures but it’s only been five months and it’s already looking great, I can’t wait to see how it develops next year and years down the line.

20 Comments


  1. You can’t believe it? I certainly can’t! You have some wonderful soil there and no mistake.

    Reply

    1. Hello Mrs Mac, thank you. That wonderful soil is also happily growing weeds so I need the plants I want to establish and grow away quickly and leave the weeds weak and smothered!

      Reply

  2. How brilliant that you have taken time out of your busy year to take stock and appreciate all that you have achieved in such a short time. It looks like your soil and plants aren’t letting you down – that is one happy new border!

    Reply

    1. Hello Sarah, I’m glad that border is growing away nicely now. The shrubs and plants in it should really start filling out next season and it will all be out of control the year after next. It looks as though I’m already going to have to lift and divide some of the clumps of iris that I planted this year! I hope to fall into a routing of giving the borders a winter mulch after they die down for the winter.

      Reply

  3. Confucius said, If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” Sunil, I think you have it all covered with the planting of your magnolia and your informative blog – you are thinking in all garden ways.

    Reply

    1. Hello Jayne, that’s a thought-provoking saying and on reflection it seems that I do have all angles covered, from writing on this blog and planting annuals to planting trees that I hope will be there long after I am gone.

      Reply

  4. Your Magnolia Bed is coming along extremely well! I’d like to be there when all those Philadelphus are blooming. Very nicely conceived and executed.

    Reply

    1. Hello Jason, we also look forward to when the Philadelphus start flowering. We started off with “Belle Etoile”, which has a stunningly strong sweet fragrance and now we’ve added “Virginal” and “Coronaries aureus”. I hope these two new additions are just as fragrant, if not more. I want to have the scent wafting about the garden from these in early summer.

      Reply

  5. I love it!! I can’t believe how much everything has grown! Are you sure you have room for more plants? All your hard work has really paid off. 🙂

    Reply

    1. Hello Tammy, I’m definitely taking it easy for the winter now. There will only be limited pottering about outside in the garden. I might make a gentle start on clearing the border I hope to do next year but I’m not expecting to do any major earth-shifting until next Spring, apart form mulching. There’s a lot to mulch. hmm…

      Reply

  6. Having seen it with my own eyes, I can testify Magnolia Hill is already gorgeous. If you tuck a few colorful groundcovers in the back, maybe like a Drift rose, those evergreens will be a perfect backdrop. What a thrill it was for me to visit and enjoy your garden in person. Next year it will be even more beautiful!

    Reply

    1. Hello Lynn, thank you for your kind comments, and of course, your visit! Magnolia Hill currently has just one layer planted of five. There are still many more plants to go into this border, from climbers to bulbs. Ground cover will also be very important to keep the weeds down. I’ll take a look at your suggestion of a Drift rose.

      Reply

  7. Sunil, its fantastic to see how your garden has developed in such a short time. If Magnolia hill is anything to go by, your whole garden is going to be exceptional before too long, and probably sooner than you yourself think. Love following your progress.

    Reply

    1. Hello Alistair, thanks for following; I’m looking forward to this border next year too. It will only grow and fill out even more and I’m looking forward to the roses flowering and of course the Magnolia too (though it is still rather young).

      Reply

  8. It’s really amazing to see how Magnolia Hill has filled in in such a short period of time. I’m glad that you’re finding time to stop, take a deep breath, and savor what you’ve accomplished.

    Reply

    1. Hello Jean, I’m certainly taking a break from the garden at the moment. The only times I have are at the weekends and those are filled with domestic chores and other work. The garden is getting very little attention and it might stay that way until next year.

      Reply

  9. Was hoping you would post before the holiday season, but no – and as I have no other way of finding you, wanted to send you and your partner (sorry, no name) best wishes for the season – or as my pagan friends say, have a cool yule! Let’s all hope for lovely growing weather in the coming Spring, and lots of spreading in our borders!
    Mrs Mac. xx

    Reply

    1. Hello Mrs Mac, I did have a post ready to umm.. post but we went off for Christmas before I could finish it. We’re back now so I’ll have to re-write it a little and get it out before the New Year (seeing as I missed Christmas). I hope you had a great Christmas too and I’ll be pottering in the garden when the weather is nice and getting back to writing when it isn’t!

      Reply

  10. I agree with you — you must have phenomenal soil and also good-light and that’s why within 5 months, the plants have become like that. I know vegetable plants behave like that but perennials usually take quite a while to put up their show. It seems perennials in your Magnolia Hill have really become in 5 months what they usually become in a year. Wow! I really like the names you are given to all those borders — magnolia hill, rose hill :-).

    Reply

    1. Hello, many of the shrubs have established very well while others are developing a little more slowly. I think the rich deeply dug soil really helped get the plants settled in. The first year is usually always a little fraught due to transplant shock in plants but this season, Magnolia Hill should really fill out well and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow and flower this year, right from the beginning.

      Reply

Leave a Reply